Anyone on client or on the agency side will remember their first QBR (Quarterly Business Review). Unless you are adequately prepared, it feels a bit like getting ready to jump in a pool without knowing how high up you are or how deep is the pool. No need to panic. Quarterly Business Reviews are now fairly common practices among brand advertisers. Naturally, given the strategic importance of the work performed by agencies, advertisers have a vested interest in meeting on a quarterly basis to review how the work is performing, discuss resources and make decisions that will impact the remaining of the fiscal calendar. How do you make sure those are run effectively and getting you to the right outcome? Here are a few steps to consider:
1- Establish a predictable schedule to avoid fire drills and effective use of the time
2- Provide adequate structure to cover all relevant topics
3- Make sure that the right attendees on both side are attending
4- Ensure you dedicate enough time for Q&A, discussion and action planning
5- Request reports and any pre-read prior to the QBR so everyone is well prepared
6- Start every QBR by reviewing progress against agreed action plans from the prior one
Establish a predictable schedule to avoid fire drills and effective use of the time
Process rigor is critical and here is why: There is a sizeable amount of time and efforts required to conduct quality agency QBRs, so having a set schedule that is unlikely to be rescheduled and allows all participating agencies and internal stakeholders ensures that those meetings happen at the right time to be effective: decisions must be made timely and the meeting cannot be truly productive unless everyone had to chance to prepare for it.
Provide adequate structure to cover all relevant topics
During QBRs, client teams and their agencies are coming together on this pre-set schedule to step back from the daily work to reflect on how the work is progressing against stated objectives, review the financials to ensure those are on par with expectations and identify improvement areas in the work relationship that can be acted upon in the following quarter. To accomplish this, a detailed and rigorous agenda is required. A typical agenda might look like this:
- Business update and work review (progress against objectives and agreed scope, review of assets/deliverables produced, etc.)
- Staffing update (staff changes, new hires, feedback, etc.)
- Financial review (reconciliation of retainers, out of pocket and various expenses)
- Agency recommendations (based on competitive trends, innovative ideas, etc.)
- Progress update against prior QBR commitments
Make sure that the right attendees on both side are attending
It may sound obvious, yet too many agency QBRs are being held without the right client or agency stakeholders in attendance, seriously compromising the value of these meetings. Agency QBRs are the ideal venues to assess the work, prioritize resources, course-correct where needed, make important decisions. These decisions must be made those with the right level of seniority to see them carry through. Compromises, tradeoffs may be required and decisions made may have significant business and financial impact. Not having the right decision makers is simply wasteful.
Ensure you dedicate enough time for Q&A, discussion and action planning
No matter how rigorous and comprehensive is the set agenda for these meetings, a big part of the value realized is in discussions that may not fall naturally in one of the regular topic areas. By dedicating ample time for open dialog, participants have the opportunity to address immediate opportunities or concerns and get alignment on what actions must be taken.
Request reports and any pre-read prior to the QBR so everyone is well prepared
To make effective use of the time, it’s preferable to have the client teams read the various reports prepared by the agencies to facilitate these discussions. For example, the agency might send a reconciliation report of actuals vs. budget on scope activities, retainer and FTE utilization as well as other financial reports. If the agency is showing to be burning resources at a higher rate than anticipated, then some type of corrective action must be taken place, often leading to a deep dive conversation about the rationale behind this anomaly as well as scope reduction, budget increase or resource reallocation. The meeting should be spent on exploring these scenarios and recommendations, and not on spotting these issues in the first place. Once these reports are sent on a pre-established schedule, the client teams can conduct their pre-read and come prepared to make good decisions.
Start every QBR by reviewing progress against agreed action plans from the prior one
Since QBRs happen on a regular basis, each meeting is an opportunity for both teams to hold each other accountable to delivering against prior commitments. Once an action plan has been agreed upon for a particular quarter, the subsequent QBR must start with a review of the status of these commitments – how many have been successfully completed, are still work in progress, are on hold or have been delayed and why. Starting the meeting with a short review of these action items and their status sets the right tone for a partnership that must be anchored into mutual accountability.
Agency QBRs must be part of the rhythm of the business, so they flow naturally in support of the larger set of objectives a brand advertiser has set for the company. QBRs are essential part of the agency management governance construct. Yet without these productive discussions that sit outside of specific client/agency project engagements, the work and relationship is likely to be suffer over time. It becomes a vital exercise of ongoing expectations setting and resetting as well as relationship finetuning. Ready to take that jump? Your agency QBR might be that lifejacket you are looking for.